This Is The August is a caring and uncompromising look at living authentically in the age of social media and viral content, where personal brands and pleasing your followers often run counter to being yourself. It also marks the debut of playwright Hillary Rexe, who patiently untangles the tension between three characters as they defend three conflicting versions of authenticity.
The play follows a 25-year-old video maker named Edie (Lauren Beatty), who rises to fame on YouTube after a video diary of her sex life goes viral. She is at ease, turning her life story into a commodity as a means for success. Meanwhile, her middle-aged girlfriend and professor Bea (Kim Huffman) films documentaries about the underprivileged to make herself feel like a better person.
She plays foil to Edie’s open book with prejudiced views on privacy and gender roles, which she also directs toward her kid, Sam (Heath V. Salazar), a multimedia performance artist, who struggles to make their mother recognize their label-free gender.
Rexe’s characters strive to temper their ideals with resignation to and critical awareness of people’s flawed and often hurtful, though well-intentioned natures. Sam is the best example of this philosophy, because they’re caught between the extremes of Edie’s free market liberalism and Bea’s conservatism, but are nonetheless able to find peace and meaning in loving both and accepting their questionable worldviews.
Salazar ties this all up by effortlessly imbuing single gestures, such as smiles, shrugs, and hesitations, with enough energy for the audience to be instantly drawn into a moment of recognition.
On one extreme, Edie’s contrasting online and offline selves underscore her chronic burden of maintaining a healthy concept of community. Her mechanical persona on camera and her dedication to giving her viewers content they want to hear turn her videos into conversation pieces that are also self-effacing, capitalist rites of passage.
On the other, Bea’s willful ignorance of nonbinary genders is frustrating in its steadfastness and stunning for holding tight to our empathy. She doesn’t seem like a lost cause, the harm she inflicts by misgendering Sam and talking down to Edie ultimately misguided and reversible.
It’s the characters’ willingness to confront each other’s shortcomings with kindness, for the most part, that reminds us we’re all odd, somewhat mad creatures who are worthy of the work it takes to be treated on our own terms.
This Is The August runs until Aug. 14 as part of the 2016 SummerWorks Performance Festival. For more information, visit www.summerworks.ca.